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The Difference between Seizures and Epilepsy: January 8, 2019

It happens when there is an overproduction of electrical activity in the brain. “Seizures can occur for many different reasons, sometimes from metabolic problems, or even medications could cause a seizure on an isolated basis, or even toxic chemicals could cause a seizure,” explained Dr. John Sullivan, a neurologist on the medical staff of Lee Health.

But if a patient has a seizure, it doesn’t mean they have epilepsy. “Epilepsy is defined as having multiple unprovoked seizures,” he said.

There are many different types of seizures, just like there are many different types of epilepsy. To determine the difference and the cause, patients may undergo a series of testing including an MRI and EEG screening. “The EEG is particularly helpful to see electrically where in the brain the seizure could be coming from,” said Dr. Sullivan.

A physical examination, a detailed medical history, and diagnostic testing can help physicians diagnose and treat the problem. “They are treated differently. Commonly, if we find there is a provoking occurrence, simply removing the provoking occurrence is enough to cause the seizures to go away, or if we need to use medication if it truly is an epilepsy syndrome,” said Dr. Sullivan.

Approximately 3 and a half million people in the U.S. have epilepsy; whereas, studies show one in 10 people may develop a seizure in life. “Folks who do have epilepsy, true epilepsy, the risks of reoccurrence of seizures can be quite high. Most all of those patients do require medical care and medication to try to control those seizures,” Dr. Sullivan said.

Surgery may also be an option for patients. If a person experiences a seizure, it’s important they seek medical care to determine the cause.

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